Finding Time to Learn
Since moving to Indiana in early July, I have had the privilege of devoting more time to developing my own horsemanship. Not only have I had time to read new books and watch new training videos, but I have also been able to take lessons both on the ground and under saddle. This is the first time in a while that I have been able to commit to learning more and developing my partnership with Bentley simply focusing on the two of us. The trainer at our new barn is AMAZING, and I am so grateful that we have been able to work with her. She is a quarter horse trainer, both english and western, a Parelli trainer and all around fantastic horsewoman. For me, the discipline of a trainer does not matter, but the quality of horsemanship the trainer has and teaches is hugely important.
The Power of Neutral
One of the biggest takeaways I have had from this period of learning is the power of being neutral. This can look like many different things, but essentially is the ability to ask for something and then go back to a neutral state (both in your brain and body). For me, going back to neutral without releasing everything has been a huge learning experience. Often we are taught to ask and then release when the horse does or begins to do a task, but no one really describes how to actually do that release. I have found that it looks different for each partnership, but finding a release to neutral rather than a complete release has been so effective in being clear and present in my relationship with Bentley.
For instance, if I send him out on the line to canter, I open my arms and add rhythmic pressure from behind. If the goal is to step into a canter, I release to neutral once he canters and he should maintain the canter until I ask him to come down when I engage my energy out of neutral. In this case, neutral looks like bringing my hands (and tools if I have any) into my center all while maintaining soft eyes and a grounded presence. I do not drop my hands completely down or drop my energy towards him completely. In this situation, doing so is very confusing to him and it creates an atmosphere of unpredictable with me tuning in and tuning out too quickly.
When I go to neutral (instead of dropping everything) I stay tuned in and grounded. It is like I am a dimmer switch with my energy rather than a simple on/off switch. This concept has also been described as finding softness by many notable horse people. Mark Rashid has written multiple books that explain this concept in further detail from a slightly different perspective. In finding this new dimension, our partnership has improved tremendously. We are more connected than ever before and it shows both in groundwork and undersaddle.
How do you find neutral?
As I have been focusing on finding neutral with my relationship with Bentley, I have also been thinking about how the concept relates to life outside of horses. How often do you find neutral in your life? With yourself? With others? For me it is not very often. I am typically very engaged or not engaged at all. If I complete a task, I either reward myself by checking out completely (going for a run or watching some tv) or I move right on to the next thing. From this new perspective, I have been challenging myself to find neutral rather than a complete release or no release at all. I have not completely figured it out yet, but have enjoyed the new awareness it has brought me. This week think about how neutral fits into your life both with your horses and without. Let us know what you think in the comments below!